GOPUSA ILLINOIS
  David John Diersen, GOPUSA Illinois Editor
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March 7, 2007 News Clips
Posted by Diersen on 15-Mar-2007

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CHICAGO TRIBUNE
-- $32 BILLION  Blagojevich seeks huge increase in state revenues - Ray Long, Rick Pearson and Diane Rado
(FROM THE ARTICLE: Business interests vowed to contest the new gross receipts tax on their revenues as well as a new payroll tax on employers who don't pay health insurance. The Illinois Manufacturers' Association printed blue buttons asking, "What's he thinking?" mocking Blagojevich's attacks on his vanquished Republican opponent, Judy Baar Topinka, in the fall election.)
-- Fitzgerald's return will be fun to watch - John Kass
(FROM THE EDITORIAL: It's been a theory of mine--adopted from a friend, a wise and powerful attorney in Chicago who knows just about everything--that Fitzgerald was put on the Libby case in hopes that he would be distracted, so things would fall through the cracks back home. Let's recap those cases, now that Fitzgerald is going back to real work. - The Conrad Black fraud case, in which the former boss of the Chicago Sun-Times and Hollinger International will defend himself by calling as a witness former Republican Illinois Gov. Big Jim Thompson--who was head of the Hollinger board's audit committee. - The state pension fraud case, involving hundreds of millions of dollars cut up by the Illinois Combine, the bipartisan clique that runs things and thought it could dictate who would be the federal hammer in Chicago. Included in this case are two top Combine bosses, Republicans Big Bill Cellini and Big Bob Kjellander, who have not been indicted but have been identified by the Tribune as Individuals A and K in the federal court documents.)
-- Obama bought speculative stocks favored by donors - Mike McIntire and Christopher Drew
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0703070066mar07,1,6049958.story 
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
-- Gov to unveil education plan today  Will use business tax to boost school spending - Kate Grossman
(FROM THE ARTICLE: Critics say this second unveiling is vintage Blagojevich. "This governor is really good at presenting gifts: It sounds good, it's wrapped nicely," said Sen. Dan Cronin (D-Lombard). "The challenge is what happens after the lights go off and the cameras are gone. Where is the money?")
-- We're just two lifetimes removed from ugly history of slavery - Mark Brown 
(DIERSEN: My ancestors immigrated to America legally in the 1840s from what is now Germany.  None of my ancestors owned slaves, none of my ancestors benefited directly from slavery, and none of my ancestors discriminated against Blacks.  I am the first of my ancestors to attend college.  I have never benefited directly from slavery, I have never benefited from discrimination against Blacks, and I have never discriminated against Blacks.  However, because I opposed reverse discrimination, my liberal Democrat United States Government Accountability Office superiors a) treated me like my ancestors owned slaves, like my ancestors benefited directly from slavery, like my ancestors discriminated against Blacks, like I benefited directly from slavery and from discrimination against Blacks, and like I discriminated against Blacks and b) wasted my career and forced me into early retirement.)
DAILY HERALD
-- Governor proposes record $60 billion in spending - Eric Krol and John Patterson
-- Blagojevich tax proposal merits look, but with many questions - Editorial
-- House panel endorses earlier primary date - 
http://www.dailyherald.com/news/kanestory.asp?id=288373&cc=k&tc=&t=
-- DuPage may seek home-rule power  County might look at move to generate revenue - 
http://www.dailyherald.com/news/dupagestory.asp?id=288310&cc=d&tc=&t=
(ARTICLE INCLUDES QUOTES FROM: O’Shea, Pastika, Rion, Schillerstrom, and Zay.)
-- Here’s what Cook County officials ‘got’ for their votes - Gregg Goslin, Commissioner, 14th District; Liz Doody-Gorman, Commissioner, 17th District; Pete Silvestri, Commissioner, 9th District; Mike Quigley, Commissioner, 10th District 
-- Bush should send his daughters to war - Lanlan Hoo, Wheaton 
BEACON NEWS
-- Local soldier thought 'treatment was good'  5 weeks in coma: Wounded Aurora GI hazy about time at Walter Reed - Andre Salles
http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/beaconnews/news/286089,2_1_AU07_REED_S2.article
(FROM THE ARTICLE: Lauzen visit While at Walter Reed, Rojas received a visit from state Sen. Chris Lauzen, an Aurora Republican who was on hand for Illinois National Guardsman Tammy Duckworth's promotion to the rank of major. Duckworth now is head of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. Lauzen said he did not notice any unsanitary conditions at Walter Reed -- but he wasn't looking for them, either. "I was stunned and transfixed by the pain I saw in those rooms," Lauzen said. "I wasn't checking the plumbing and the insulation. If you ask me if I remember the conditions, the answer is no." Lauzen said during his brief time there he came away with the impression that the families at Walter Reed were receiving the priority and attention they needed. He expressed sorrow at the testimony that has come out in recent days and said our soldiers "deserve all the care we can give them.") 
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
-- Illinois House votes to roll back electric rates - 
(ARTICLE INCLUDES QUOTES FROM: Bill Black, Ron Stevens, and Dave Winters.) 
BELLEVILLE NEWS DEMOCRAT
-- Patrick Fitzgerald: `Elliot Ness with a Harvard degree' wins his biggest case - Rudolph Bush and Matt O'Connor
(FROM THE ARTICLE: At 5 1/2 years in office, Fitzgerald has already had the longest tenure of any U.S. attorney in Chicago in almost half a century. If he were removed now, the White House likely would face a firestorm of protest, especially since the Democratic congress is already looking into whether the administration played politics in the recent firings of other U.S. attorneys. In Chicago and around the state, meanwhile, Fitzgerald has made political enemies with his office's successful prosecutions of Ryan and high-ranking members of Mayor Richard Daley's administration as well as the indictment of a top fundraiser for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Antoin "Tony" Rezko. Nevertheless, he has received endorsements from Republicans and Democrats serving Illinois in congress. Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who has worked closely with Fitzgerald on gang and drug issues, said he enjoys a great deal of support. "I see no partisanship in him whatsoever," Kirk said. "He's the ideal face of a prosecutor who just follows the wrongdoing wherever it leads. But former Gov. Jim Thompson, a Republican and former U.S. attorney, scoffed at the idea that someone in Fitzgerald's position can become politically "untouchable.""Nobody is in that category," Thompson said. "He serves at the pleasure of the president.")
ABC7
-- Blagojevich to seek $1.5 billion increase in school funding - Andy Shaw
(FROM THE ARTICLE: "People will move businesses when they can, and for the taxpayers themselves, somebody has to pay it, and it will be passed along in certain kinds of fashions, especially on consumer items" said Greg Baise, Illinois Manufacturing Association..."This is Governor Blagojevich on steroids. This is the largest single tax increase in the history of Illinois," said State Sen. Kirk Dillard, (R) Hinsdale.)
-- U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald at the top of his game - Chuck Goudie
NEW YORK TIMES
-- Disinvitation of Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., senior pastor of the popular Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, by Obama Is Criticized - Jodi Kantor
CRAIN'S CHICAGO BUSINESS
-- Illinois House OKs bill to scrap rate hikes - 
http://www.chicagobusiness.com/cgi-bin/news.pl?id=24127
-- Blagojevich wants big boost in education money - AP
BLOOMINGTON PANTAGRAPH
-- Illinois House votes to cut electric rates - Mike Riopell
http://www.pantagraph.com/articles/2007/03/06/news/doc45edfecd0b568646262150.txt
SPRINGFIELD STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER
-- Governor plans new bond issue, lease of lottery to ease massive pension burden - Doug Finke
GALESBURG REGISTER-MAIL
-- Risinger 'gimmick' to catch attention  Lawmaker organizes protest outside governor's office Wednesday - Molly Parker
FAMILY TAXPAYERS NETWORK
-- Barack Obama: Audacity or Not, He’s Not Ready - John Biver
NEW YORK SUN
-- Does the Mitt Fit? - Andrew Ferguson
ACCURACY IN MEDIA
-- Coke and a Smoke for Obama - Andy Selepak
WASHINGTON POST
-- Can Rudy Get Past the First Date? - Ruth Marcus
SMALL GOVERNMENT TIMES
-- SGT interviews presidential candidate John Cox - Steve Adcock
 
GOPUSA ILLINOIS
Why do people vote for Democrat and RINO candidates who make it clear that they will increase welfare and entitlement spending, increase government borrowing, increase taxes, and/or sell or lease government assets? - Dave Diersen
-- They have health and/or financial problems, they lack education, they lack job skills, etc. and they want to benefit from increased welfare and entitlement spending 
-- They are wealthy and believe that they will get even more wealthy from increased welfare and entitlement spending - government contracts, government jobs, government grants, etc.
-- They are wealthy and believe that people with problems (people who have health and/or financial problems, who lack education, who lack job skills, etc.) will benefit more from increased welfare and entitlement spending than they or others might have to suffer by paying higher taxes
-- They reject arguments that increased welfare and entitlement spending ultimately discourages individual responsibility and promotes government dependency
-- They are anti-capitalist socialists, communists, totalitarians, etc. who know full well that increased welfare and entitlement spending discourages individual responsibility and promotes government dependency
 
Actions that indicate that you really are a "conservative" Republican - Dave Diersen
www.gopillinois.com
-- Understand what conservatism is and how the Republican platform advances conservatism and understand what liberalism is and how the Democrat platform advances liberalism
-- Live a life that is consistent with conservative principles and disclose and apologize for mistakes made
-- Support conservative Republican candidates in primary elections and support the Republican candidate in general elections
-- Support legislation that is consistent with conservative principles and oppose legislation that is not
-- Defend conservative Republicans when they are unfairly attacked
-- Say and do things that protect and advance conservative principles
-- Put advancing conservatism ahead of advancing your own personal interests
-- Know what "CPAC" stands for and attend the 2008 CPAC if at all possible
-- Tell everyone that you are a conservative and that you are a Republican
-- Do not cave in to Democrats and RINOs who badmouth your motives, who badmouth your judgment, who badmouth your abilities, who demonize you as being divisive, who demonize you as being racist, who demonize you as being bigoted, etc.
 
Illinois is one of the most important states; the Executive Director of its Republican Party should have a national reputation for excellence - Dave Diersen
www.gopillinois.com
Needless-to-say, Illinois is one of the most important states and the Executive Director of its Republican Party should have a national reputation for excellence.  Logically, it seems, the next Executive Director of the Illinois Republican Party is currently serving as the Executive Director in another state and is someone who has earned a reputation as being one of the Republican Party's best.

Sadly, there are very powerful people in Illinois who say they are Republican, but have been, are, and will continue to work hard to elect Democrats.  They would much rather have a Democrat elected who they can "work with" than a Republican they cannot control.  What are the Combine's current top priorities? - Dave Diersen
www.gopillinois.com
-- Elect Hillary as President and Obama as Vice President
-- Vindicate and promote George Ryan and his supporters
-- Keep Kjellander in office and destroy or buy off everyone who has called for Kjellander to resign
-- Stop everyone who the Combine cannot dominate from running for any political office, especially for Durbin's and Hastert's seats
-- Reelect all Illinois Democrat incumbents, especially Durbin, and reelect all Republican incumbents who the Combine can dominate
-- Stop the Illinois Republican Party from filling its Executive Director position unless it fills it with someone who the Combine can dominate and/or with someone who will not be effective
-- Destroy or buy off everyone who defends the Republican Assembly of Lake County
-- Destroy or buy off everyone who really wants to return to direct election of IRP State Central Committee members 
-- Get everyone to say that the more planks in the Republican platform you support, the more divisive you are
-- Destroy or buy off anyone who says they are a "conservative" or a "Platform Republican"
-- Get people on the 2008 IRP Platform Committee who will move the next IRP Platform to the left
-- Get voters who the Combine can dominate or buy off, especially limousine liberals and people who demand government assistance, to move to DuPage County
 
CHICAGO TRIBUNE
$32 BILLION  Blagojevich seeks huge increase in state revenues - Ray Long, Rick Pearson and Diane Rado
(FROM THE ARTICLE: Business interests vowed to contest the new gross receipts tax on their revenues as well as a new payroll tax on employers who don't pay health insurance. The Illinois Manufacturers' Association printed blue buttons asking, "What's he thinking?" mocking Blagojevich's attacks on his vanquished Republican opponent, Judy Baar Topinka, in the fall election.)
SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Wednesday plans to call for a huge overhaul of Illinois government's finances that counts on raising $32 billion in new revenue by adding business taxes, leasing the state lottery and selling bonds.

Seeking to convince skeptics in a legislature controlled by his own party, the Democratic governor will try to make the case for new revenues by touting plans to pump billions of dollars into public schools and expanded health-care coverage, according to budget documents obtained by the Tribune.

No Illinois governor has sought to generate so much new revenue in such a short time. Some of Blagojevich's proposals were already stirring opposition from special interest groups and some lawmakers before Wednesday's speech combining his annual budget plan and State of the State address.

Giving his first formal assessment of the state since winning a second term in November, Blagojevich is expected to promote four themes to lawmakers under the umbrella of "investing in Illinois' families." In addition to education, health care and pensions, Blagojevich contends that requiring more of businesses is a matter of "tax fairness" compared with the burden borne by individuals.

"This proposal brings fairness and equity to our tax system, ensuring that Illinois continues to strengthen its economy and has the necessary funds to provide services to the people," Blagojevich wrote in the opening pages of his state budget book.

Though Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) has already indicated support for new tax levies on business, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) has questioned the wisdom of leasing the lottery and has said little about the proposed business taxes.

"If there ever was a day to wait for the fine print, this is it," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said Tuesday.

Business interests vowed to contest the new gross receipts tax on their revenues as well as a new payroll tax on employers who don't pay health insurance. The Illinois Manufacturers' Association printed blue buttons asking, "What's he thinking?" mocking Blagojevich's attacks on his vanquished Republican opponent, Judy Baar Topinka, in the fall election.

Many of the governor's plans could pass with just the votes of the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, but that is no sure thing. Interest groups will try to make the case that new taxes could close businesses and cost jobs in lawmakers' districts.

Republicans, already expected to side with business in opposing the new taxes, likely would play an even bigger role in Blagojevich's initiative to sell more bonds to deal with the state's pension liabilities and fund public works construction projects. Though in the minority politically, GOP lawmakers are needed to reach the three-fifths majority necessary to approve state bonding.

If Blagojevich fails to win on any of his big-ticket items, the roughly $1 billion in normal revenue growth projected for the state would allow for a status-quo budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. But it would not address the government's pressing problems.

Blagojevich is seeking more new revenue in a single year than any Illinois governor, and the most since he won authorization in 2003 to sell $10 billion in bonds to refinance state pension debt.

Most of the proposed new revenue would come from raising $16 billion in bonds to pay off pension debt and generating $10 billion by leasing the state lottery to a private company that would run it for up to 75 years.

But all the revenue from the bond sale and lottery lease would be poured into the state's woefully underfunded public employee pension systems, bringing the liability down from more than $40 billion to $15 billion. That could ease pressure on future state budgets.

Blagojevich's overall spending plan for the next fiscal year is roughly $60 billion, compared with last year's roughly $56 billion budget approved by lawmakers.

At the same time, as Blagojevich proposes new ways to generate money to alleviate a brewing state fiscal crisis, his plans do not include any forms of tax relief. Education proponents have argued any tax plans for new school dollars should include a component to reduce local property taxes.

Blagojevich's plan calls for spending $1.5 billion in new money for public schools in the next fiscal year and would add additional dollars to that amount when the gross receipts tax would be fully implemented. The administration contends such a move would provide local school districts with enough money to prevent an increase in property taxes, which are the predominant source of education funding, though critics complain real estate taxes are already too high.

Blagojevich also is proposing a school construction program of more than $500 million a year over three years.

During his first term, Blagojevich was unable to win the bipartisan support needed to float a bond-funded construction package, largely due to distrust over where the projects would be and what lawmakers would politically benefit.

The gross receipts tax would include a 0.5 percent levy on the transaction of goods and a 1.8 percent levy on service firms, to generate $3 billion in the next budget year and $6 billion yearly when fully operational. The tax would be imposed on revenues that business takes in, regardless of profitability, sources said.

Exempt from the tax would be food and drug items, small businesses with less than $1 million in revenues, exports from Illinois, and the gambling and insurance industries, which have their own specialized tax structure. Blagojevich also would impose a business tax equivalent to 3 percent of payroll for firms that don't offer health insurance or who offer minimal coverage, which would generate between $500 million and $1 billion. Firms with 10 or fewer employees would be exempt.

Revenues from the gross receipts and payroll taxes would help fund Blagojevich's recently unveiled Illinois Covered health-care plan, which is eventually aimed at helping 1.5 million uninsured and underinsured state residents get health-care coverage. The administration says the cost of that plan would be low in the next fiscal year. When fully implemented, the administration says the cost would be $2.1 billion a year, through critics contend the figure could go much higher.

Remaining revenues would be earmarked for education.

Of the $1.5 billion in new money Blagojevich is proposing for education, the biggest chunk would pay for a massive increase in basic per-pupil aid, the amount the state guarantees per student. The per-student figure would rise by $686 if approved. The increase would particularly benefit districts that don't collect a lot of money from local property taxpayers for schools.

At the same time, the $6,020 per-student figure Blagojevich is proposing falls short of the $6,405 figure that state education finance advisers recommended two years ago.

Blagojevich also will propose about $70 million to expand preschool education, one of his signature initiatives. The money would open up 12,000 more slots for the state's youngest children to attend school.

Another $100 million would go to help struggling students through after-school tutoring, longer school days and other programs, and $40 million would be used to give incentives to teachers to work in low-performing schools.

Other initiatives would help districts offer more full-day kindergarten programs, update textbooks and cover more of the costs of expensive special-education programs.

Along with elementary and high school construction programs, Blagojevich's new capital appropriations for the 12-month budget beginning July 1 also proposes $2.3 billion for transportation, nearly $600 million for higher education and $500 million for environmental programs, including renewable energy and biofuels like ethanol.
 
Fitzgerald's return will be fun to watch - John Kass
(FROM THE EDITORIAL: It's been a theory of mine--adopted from a friend, a wise and powerful attorney in Chicago who knows just about everything--that Fitzgerald was put on the Libby case in hopes that he would be distracted, so things would fall through the cracks back home. Let's recap those cases, now that Fitzgerald is going back to real work. - The Conrad Black fraud case, in which the former boss of the Chicago Sun-Times and Hollinger International will defend himself by calling as a witness former Republican Illinois Gov. Big Jim Thompson--who was head of the Hollinger board's audit committee. - The state pension fraud case, involving hundreds of millions of dollars cut up by the Illinois Combine, the bipartisan clique that runs things and thought it could dictate who would be the federal hammer in Chicago. Included in this case are two top Combine bosses, Republicans Big Bill Cellini and Big Bob Kjellander, who have not been indicted but have been identified by the Tribune as Individuals A and K in the federal court documents.)
 
Of all the things that special federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said about the conviction of top vice presidential aide Irve Lewis "Scooter" Libby on Tuesday, there was one sentence that intrigued me.

My ears perked up when I heard him say these eight simple words at his televised news conference.

"We're all going back to our day jobs," Fitzgerald said.

The national media will most likely ignore these eight words, since these don't have much to do with political gas-bagging, the official sport of Washington.

Republicans are upset about the perjury prosecution of Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. But they thought the rule of law mattered when the Clintons ran things. For Republicans, I guess it all depends on what the definition of the rule of law "is."

And Democrats, who defended perjury when their boss was caught, now thump their chests, complaining, rightfully so, that a few federal prosecutors have been fired for political reasons. Yet Democrats ostentatiously kept their mouths shut in 1993, when President Bill Clinton's Justice Department dumped every U.S. attorney in the country, except one, in a single day, including the fed from Arkansas who was going after Web Hubbell, the No. 3 man at Justice.

Both sides climb to the top rocks and screech about political corruption. They can save their breath and simply increase penalties for violation of the Mail Fraud Act; boost prison time from 2 years to 4; and earmark funds for additional FBI agents and prosecutors to hunt down corrupt politicians.

If Democrats in control of Congress were serious, that's what they'd do, but gas-bagging is far safer. They know that as they wax on during televised congressional hearings, most broadcast reporters wouldn't clutter up the drama by mentioning how silent they were back in the Clinton years.

Meanwhile, there are those eight words by Fitzgerald: "We're all going back to our day jobs."

It warmed me. But some others in Illinois must have felt like they were crossing the River Styx, if the Styx was full of ice and they crossed it without waders, leaving sensitive areas (perhaps their egos) subject to much freezing and shriveling.

Before he was burdened with the distractions of the Libby case, Fitzgerald was the U.S. attorney in Chicago.

He still is. But in his absence, the federal courthouse here has been too quiet. Now he can concentrate on his work, and Democrat and Republican insiders may worry about what he'll do next.

It's been a theory of mine--adopted from a friend, a wise and powerful attorney in Chicago who knows just about everything--that Fitzgerald was put on the Libby case in hopes that he would be distracted, so things would fall through the cracks back home. Let's recap those cases, now that Fitzgerald is going back to real work.

- The Conrad Black fraud case, in which the former boss of the Chicago Sun-Times and Hollinger International will defend himself by calling as a witness former Republican Illinois Gov. Big Jim Thompson--who was head of the Hollinger board's audit committee.

- The state pension fraud case, involving hundreds of millions of dollars cut up by the Illinois Combine, the bipartisan clique that runs things and thought it could dictate who would be the federal hammer in Chicago. Included in this case are two top Combine bosses, Republicans Big Bill Cellini and Big Bob Kjellander, who have not been indicted but have been identified by the Tribune as Individuals A and K in the federal court documents.

- Fast Eddie Vrdolyak, the former Darth Vader of the Chicago City Council, and William Singer, the former lakefront-liberal Democratic reformer, are under federal investigation in the sale of a Near North Side building. The building was sold for $15 million, far less than its owner, a suburban medical school, believed it was worth. Stuart Levine, a former board member of the medical school who has pleaded guilty in the pension fraud case, is cooperating with the feds. Vrdolyak knows where political bodies are buried, as does Singer, who still must marvel at how Mayor Richard Daley's developer buddy Mike Marchese underbid him for that prime CTA property on North Clark Street and miraculously got the land anyway.

- Victor Reyes and Al Sanchez. Whispering Vic is the former front man for Daley's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and one of the front-man founders for the mayor's Hispanic Democratic Organization. Sanchez is the former boss of Streets & Sanitation and an HDO bigwig. They haven't been indicted but have been repeatedly mentioned in federal court documents as schemers in the mayoral patronage operation.

Other cases include the historic federal prosecution of the Chicago Outfit for more than a dozen previously unsolved Outfit murders. And other investigations continue among Republicans and Democrats.

They're thrilled to hear that Fitzgerald is going back to his day job.
 
Obama bought speculative stocks favored by donors - Mike McIntire and Christopher Drew
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0703070066mar07,1,6049958.story
Less than two months after ascending to the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama bought more than $50,000 worth of stock in two speculative companies whose major investors included some of his biggest political donors.

One of the companies was a biotech concern that was starting to develop a drug to treat avian flu. In March 2005, two weeks after buying about $5,000 of its shares, Obama took the lead in a legislative push for more federal spending to battle the disease.

The most recent financial disclosure form for Obama (D-Ill.) also shows that he bought more than $50,000 in stock in a satellite communications business whose principal backers include four friends and donors who had raised more than $150,000 for his political committees.

A spokesman for Obama, who is seeking his party's presidential nomination in 2008, said Tuesday that the senator did not know that he had invested in either company until fall 2005, when he learned of it and decided to sell the stocks. He sold them at a net loss of $13,000.

The spokesman, Bill Burton, said Obama's broker bought the stocks without consulting the senator, under the terms of a blind trust that was being set up for the senator at that time but was not finalized until several months after the investments were made.

"He went about this process to avoid an actual or apparent conflict of interest and he had no knowledge of the stocks he owned," Burton said. "And when he realized that he didn't have the level of blindness that he expected, he moved to terminate the trust."

Obama has made ethics a signature issue. There is no evidence that any of his actions ended up benefiting either company during the roughly eight months that he owned the stocks.

Even so, the stock purchases raise questions about how he could unwittingly come to invest in two relatively obscure companies, whose backers happened to include generous contributors to his political committees.

Among those donors was Jared Abbruzzese, a New York businessman now at the center of an FBI inquiry into public corruption in Albany, N.Y. Abbruzzese had also contributed to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that had sought to undermine Sen. John Kerry's Democratic presidential campaign in 2004.

Senate ethics rules do not prohibit lawmakers from owning stocks. The rules say only that lawmakers should not take legislative actions whose primary purpose is to benefit themselves.

Obama's sale of his shares in the two companies ended what appears to have been a brief foray into highly speculative investing that stood out amid an otherwise conservative portfolio of mutual funds and cash accounts, a review of his Senate disclosure statements shows. He earned $2,000 on the biotech company AVI BioPharma and lost $15,000 on the satellite communications concern Skyterra according to Burton of the Obama campaign.

Burton said the trust was different from qualified blind trusts that other senators commonly used because it was intended to allow him greater flexibility to address any allegations of conflicts that might arise from its assets. He said Obama had decided to sell the stocks after receiving a communication that made him concerned about how the trust was set up.

The disclosure forms show that the Obamas put $50,000 to $100,000 into an account at UBS, which his aides say was recommended to him by a wealthy friend, George Haywood. Public security filings show Haywood was also a major investor in both Skyterra and AVI BioPharma.

Haywood and his wife, Cheryl, have contributed close to $50,000 to Obama's campaigns and to his political action committee, the Hopefund. Haywood declined to comment. 
 
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
Gov to unveil education plan today  Will use business tax to boost school spending - Kate Grossman
(FROM THE ARTICLE: Critics say this second unveiling is vintage Blagojevich. "This governor is really good at presenting gifts: It sounds good, it's wrapped nicely," said Sen. Dan Cronin (D-Lombard). "The challenge is what happens after the lights go off and the cameras are gone. Where is the money?")
 
Gov. Blagojevich today will unveil a sweeping education plan that significantly boosts education spending and earmarks new money for performance pay for teachers, school construction and more free preschool for middle-class kids.

Blagojevich will reveal how he'll pay for it in a budget address today, but sources say it would be financed by a proposed new levy on business transactions called a gross receipts tax. That money also would help pay for a new $2.1 billion proposal to cover the uninsured in Illinois.

Most of the governor's education ideas are easy sells. He wants to increase per pupil spending by nearly $700, fully fund special education, spend $1.5 billion over three years on school construction, improve colleges of education and invest in textbooks and technology.

"These sound like the right priorities," said former state schools Supt. Max McGee, now superintendent in Wilmette. "I've always been in favor of putting money where you can get more bang for the buck and I think that budget does that."

'Where is the money?'
The most controversial element is extra pay for teachers who boost student performance, a concept unions traditionally have opposed.

The governor first rolled out most of these ideas last May. At the time, he proposed paying for them by selling or leasing the Illinois Lottery but received little support. If a lottery sale or lease happens, that money is now earmarked for shoring up the state's underfunded public pension system.

Critics say this second unveiling is vintage Blagojevich.

"This governor is really good at presenting gifts: It sounds good, it's wrapped nicely," said Sen. Dan Cronin (D-Lombard). "The challenge is what happens after the lights go off and the cameras are gone. Where is the money?"

But advocates of school finance reform were heartened: "We may have reached the point where people will focus on this issue and really do something," said Gail Purkey, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

We're just two lifetimes removed from ugly history of slavery - Mark Brown 
(DIERSEN: My ancestors immigrated to America legally in the 1840s from what is now Germany.  None of my ancestors owned slaves, none of my ancestors benefited directly from slavery, and none of my ancestors discriminated against Blacks.  I am the first of my ancestors to attend college.  I have never benefited directly from slavery, I have never benefited from discrimination against Blacks, and I have never discriminated against Blacks.  However, because I opposed reverse discrimination, my liberal Democrat United States Government Accountability Office superiors a) treated me like my ancestors owned slaves, like my ancestors benefited directly from slavery, like my ancestors discriminated against Blacks, like I benefited directly from slavery and from discrimination against Blacks, and like I discriminated against Blacks and b) wasted my career and forced me into early retirement.)

When I was a kid, I thought that anything that happened before I was born was ancient history. It didn't matter if it was five years before I was born or 500 years. The year 1955 was the cutoff point. Events before then might be interesting but couldn't possibly have any real-world connection to my life, or so I thought.

As I get older, my time perspective keeps changing. Despite the passage of all those additional years, I now feel closer than ever to the events of World War II -- Hitler's extermination of six million Jews and our dropping of the atomic bomb now looming frighteningly large in life's rear-view mirror.

Even the Civil War stopped seeming so far in the past after I visited Gettysburg a few years back and saw the photos from the 75th anniversary reunion of the famous battle, held in 1938 and attended by 1,918 Civil War veterans, many of whom were pictured participating in a re-enactment of Pickett's Charge.

I guess that's why I'm not so quick to shrug off the discovery that my ancestors owned slaves as something that happened "a long time ago," just because it was more than a century before my birth.

No longer abstract
If you missed Sunday's column, I told the story of learning from my mom last week that some of my forebears were slaveowners.

This resulted from my calling her to make inquiries after the story hit the news Friday that one of Sen. Barack Obama's white ancestors owned slaves.

My mom's always trying to tell me about her genealogical research, but I've never paid much attention.

It came as something of a surprise then when she produced documentation showing how her great-great grandfather David E. Richardson (my great-great-great grandfather) sold off the last of the family slaves to his brother in 1853 for $170.

David Richardson and his brothers had inherited slaves from their father, Charles, my great-great-great-great grandfather.

As I explained, it's not entirely clear from the records how many total slaves were involved, but the 1853 documents make specific reference to "one Negro boy named Tom about 17 years old of yellow complexion," as well as a 5-year-old girl named Sarah and 7-year-old boy named Patrick, "both of black complexion."

I suppose none of this should have been very surprising. White Americans whose roots in this country date back a couple of centuries are quite likely to have slave owners in their ancestry. I'd always assumed my family didn't have enough money to own slaves, although I must have known in the back of my mind that it was still a possibility.

But there's something about seeing it confirmed right there on paper that puts everything in a different light. It's no longer abstract and theoretical for me.

'White liberal guilt'?
The people in my family owned other people. Black people. They passed on these black people in their wills as inheritance. They recorded this ownership in official records the same as if the black people were parcels of land.

It's not exactly lost on me that this is the same type of finding that Ald. Dorothy Tillman has used to demand reparations from investment banking firms doing business with the City of Chicago.

Do I think I owe anybody financial reparations? No.

Do I feel some personal sense of obligation that I didn't feel a week ago?

Yes, I think so. I'm not sure what form it should take, but at the very least, I think I have an even greater responsibility to be sensitive to racial issues.

Some people want to dismiss this as "white liberal guilt."

While I can't say I received an outpouring of response to Sunday's column, much of what I did get was along those lines. A lot of whites don't like to be reminded of slavery.

I'm not telling anybody they should feel guilty.

I don't personally feel guilty. But I'm not particularly comfortable with this new knowledge, either.

Not such a long time ago
The way I look at it, 1853 isn't so long ago. That's just two lifetimes.

Let's take that 5-year-old slave girl Sarah. It's possible that she lived to be 82 years old. In her later years, she might have met and had some impact on some other little 5-year-old girl, who is now 82 herself. That brings you right up to today.

That 82-year-old could be somebody whose life has intersected with mine -- or with my children's -- without my knowing it.

Maybe that's too esoteric for your taste, but it seems pretty straightforward to me.

We're just two lifetimes removed from the ugliest chapter in our history. No wonder slavery's legacy of racism and dysfunction is so hard to sweep away.

And I used to think it was such a long, long time ago.

DAILY HERALD
Governor proposes record $60 billion in spending - Eric Krol and John Patterson
In a budget plan chockfull of big ideas, Gov. Rod Blagojevich today will call for an additional $10 billion to be spent on schools the next four years, with suburban districts getting extra cash for construction, special education, and bilingual learning.

Only $1.5 billion is earmarked for the coming year, however, and the funding plan contains no property tax relief and relies on a controversial major tax increase on businesses.

The governor's tax-and-spending plan, which he'll unveil in his noon budget speech at the Capitol, also contains a large-scale health care expansion designed to eventually let most of the state's 1.4 million uninsured adults obtain coverage.

The $60 billion budget - a new state record for spending if enacted - also calls for selling the Illinois Lottery and borrowing $16 billion to shore up the shaky state worker pension system, a new payroll tax on companies that don't offer health care to employees and revamping riverboat casino taxes. But the Regional Transportation Authority would not receive a requested bailout, and it'll be up to lawmakers to propose a way to pay for a transportation-centered capital spending plan.

All of that new money for schools and health insurance would flow from a new tax on businesses' gross receipts the administration projects will fetch $2.6 billion in the first year and $6.3 billion once fully implemented.

Critics point out that Blagojevich's proposal would be the largest tax increase in Illinois history. They also argue companies simply will pass on the tax hike to customers. Blagojevich did not mention the tax when running for re-election last year.

Supporters praised the governor for addressing two important priorities.

"It adds money to schools, which is extremely important to the suburbs. It adds health care for the uninsured. And it's without a sales or income tax increase," said Democratic state Sen. Terry Link of Waukegan.

Blagojevich's planned $10 billion addition to education funding over the course of his second term could blunt growing criticism from within Democratic ranks that he hasn't done enough in that area.

"It's three times bigger than any increase in state history," said Rebecca Rausch, a Blagojevich spokeswoman.

The education plan calls for spending $800 million more next year to increase the minimum amount the state says schools should spend per student to $6,020. Because most suburban schools spend more than that, they don't qualify for that money.

But they would be in line to get millions of new state dollars through increased reimbursement of programs such as special education the state requires schools to offer.

Currently, the state reimburses schools only $8,000 for the salary of a special education teacher, an amount often less than 20 percent of the actual salary. Blagojevich's budget increases that to $13,170 and increases the reimbursement for special education aides to $4,610 from $2,800. The cost of both statewide is $209 million.

There's also $150 million in increased reimbursements for program such as bilingual education and specialized reading courses.

Blagojevich also will call for funding $1.5 billion in school construction over three years, something that eluded him his entire first term.

Nearly $150 million of the total would go to two dozen school districts such as Winfield Elementary District 34 that were promised state building help nearly five years ago but have never received the funding, leaving projects unfinished or local taxpayers to pick up the state's share.

Additionally, $30 million would go to help schools and other preschool providers add much-needed classroom space in an effort to continue expanding the universal preschool program Blagojevich announced last year.

But key Democrats said even at $10 billion, the plan was lacking in areas.

"More money is good, it's hard to squabble over that," said state Sen. James Meeks, a Chicago Democrat who dropped his bid to challenge Blagojevich for governor last year after Blagoejvich promised to reform education funding. "But reform has to include property tax relief."

Republicans, who are in the minority in the House and Senate, were briefed on the plan late Tuesday and planned to offer a response following Blagojevich's speech.

They're likely to strongly oppose the gross receipts tax, which would phase out the corporate income tax. Companies would pay a 0.5 percent tax on the sale of goods and a 1.8 percent tax on services. Businesses that take in less than $1 million a year would be exempted, as would non-profits, exports, and food and drugs.

The Blagojevich administration also told lawmakers it wants to make casinos pay 10 percent of their revenue as a license renewal fee as part of an overall tax restructuring to raise $50 million more a year.

Last year the state legislature approved a more than $55 billion budget.

Blagojevich tax proposal merits look, but with many questions - Editorial

http://www.dailyherald.com/opinion/index.asp

Advance news reports and information from Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s office make it obvious that the governor will propose a new tax system in today’s budget address.

He will recommend that Illinois follow the lead of a few other states in adopting a gross receipts tax that would raise about $6 billion a year to pay for health care, education and capital projects.

At this juncture, the proposal is longer on questions than answers and contains elements that invite skepticism. Still, it’s worth hearing the governor out and awaiting reliable independent analysis.

Credit Blagojevich with this: He has, with this idea, devised an idea that is less gimmicky and more stable than some of his previous notions — for instance, putting keno machines on virtually every street corner or leasing the lottery (an idea the governor is expected to resurrect in a new, more sensible context) to reduce pension debt.

Moreover, the governor will be correct when he points out today that the state economy has shifted in recent decades, from manufacturing to service, and that the tax code is designed more for the former than the latter.

Still, many questions must be answered in detail before legislators can seriously consider approving the governor’s recommendation.

For openers, how would the tax actually affect businesses of all types? The governor, with his unfortunate penchant for portraying businesses as greedy villains rather than employers and contributors to the economy, likes to point out that some large firms pay no corporate income tax. In some cases, they are exploiting loopholes. In others, that is related in part to their ability to write off expenses and losses. Would taxing business activity instead of profits be widely damaging to business, particularly those operating on a narrow margin? Maybe not, but we need to know whether that’s the case.

Also, to what extent would this tax be passed on to consumers? The governor will cite safeguards, but it would be surprising if businesses do not find ways to pass the cost on to consumers — dulling Blagojevich’s likely claim that this does not amount to a tax on ordinary residents.

No matter what a thorough analysis of the governor’s tax proposal shows, legislators must guard against being so enamored by the thought of billions in new revenue that they readily acquiesce to any and all new spending the governor proposes.

Lawmakers should keep in mind that the governor is proposing the gross receipts tax because he finds himself in a bind between his campaign pledges (no tax increases, and this clearly is a big tax increase no matter what its merits might be) and his appetite for new spending.

To be sure, Blagojevich can make a compelling case that insurance coverage of routine medical care, including wellness checks, is much cheaper than treating ailments that could and should have been prevented. This, however, does not mean that the state should set up a health-care plan that aspires to cover anything and everything and features extraordinarily loose eligibility requirements to boot.

Whether expanded state-subsidized health care is even the No. 1 priority of this legislative session is also a subject for further debate. School-finance reform advocates are clamoring for increased state funding; the state’s transit and capital highway needs are well established.

The state probably cannot afford to take care of all of these issues in one fell swoop. Lawmakers must do the hard work of prioritizing and deciding what the state can afford now without unreasonably burdening either the business community or future taxpayers.

In this arena and context, the burden of proof is on the governor to show that his proposed spending is sufficiently needed and responsible to justify this kind of tax increase.

House panel endorses earlier primary date - 
http://www.dailyherald.com/news/kanestory.asp?id=288373&cc=k&tc=&t=

SPRINGFIELD — An earlier 2008 primary election date received preliminary clearance Tuesday, giving presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Barack Obama a potential home-state advantage and putting Illinois among a number of states vying for more political power.

The measure passed through a House committee without opposition and is expected to go before the full House before week’s end. The change would move the primary date from the third Tuesday in March to the first one in February.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who also heads the Illinois Democratic Party, pushed for the change in January, amid speculation that Obama would enter the race.

Opponents of the one-day political extravaganza have said the early primary will force candidates to build million-dollar war chests early on and cut candidates without name recognition out of the race.

Supporters have said the change would give Illinois, which many consider more representative of the nation, a greater say in presidential races.

At least 19 other states have moved up their primary dates or are considering the change. If state legislatures approved the measures, a majority of the voting population would head to the polls on the same day, leaving later primary dates with little to no say in presidential elections. Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina would still hold an advantage with earlier primary dates.

DuPage may seek home-rule power  County might look at move to generate revenue - 
http://www.dailyherald.com/news/dupagestory.asp?id=288310&cc=d&tc=&t=
(ARTICLE INCLUDES QUOTES FROM: O’Shea, Pastika, Rion, Schillerstrom, and Zay.)
Faced with growing financial problems and a shrinking list of possible solutions, DuPage County leaders say it might be time to consider boosting their taxing power.

Several county board members Tuesday said there needs to be discussion on whether DuPage should push for home-rule powers.

“It’s one of those things that the board recognizes we need to at least think about and look at as a potential option,” Chairman Robert Schillerstrom said.

Home-rule status would give DuPage more regulatory powers and the ability to rely less on property taxes. It also would substantially increase the county’s taxing authority — a reason the issue has been a political hot potato.

Voters have stripped the power away from three DuPage communities — Lombard, Lisle and Villa Park — and ousted former county board Chairman Jack Knuepfer after he proposed it.

Still, some say, DuPage is running out of options to address its budgetary problems.

The county has made significant budget cuts and laid off dozens of employees because revenues haven’t kept pace with expenses.

Unless a new revenue source is found, officials say another round of belt-tightening will happen at the end of the year.

An attempt to get a countywide cigarette tax failed when state Senate President Emil Jones Jr. didn’t call it for a vote.

And while board member Pam Rion remains optimistic that state legislators could pass a law allowing counties to tax cigarettes by as much as $2 a pack, she said DuPage needs a backup plan.

“Home rule has always been an option,” she said. “It’s up to the political will at this point.”

Board member Jim Zay voiced opposition to home rule two years ago. Now he says he’s frustrated by what happened in Springfield.

“We basically worked hard on an issue and were told by people outside our county that we have no control over what can be done,” he said.

Meanwhile, state law gives automatic home-rule powers to dozens of Illinois towns because they have a population of more than 25,000.

“It’s ridiculous that we have a governmental entity with as many responsibilities as DuPage County does — that’s bigger than seven states — and it doesn’t have that authority,” Schillerstrom said.

Cook County is the only county in the state with home-rule status. It has used the authority to impose a variety of taxes.

If DuPage leaders pursue home rule, they have several ways to get it, including getting permission from voters, state lawmakers or a judge’s ruling.

Officials with the Elmhurst-based Citizen Advocacy Center say they have no problem with DuPage seeking home rule, as long as voters get the final say.

“I think there’s a lot of benefits to being home rule,” said Terry Pastika, the center's executive director. “The issue is whether or not you do it properly. If you want home rule, you need to go to the voters.”

Not everyone is sold on the idea of home rule. “I think it’s a knee-jerk reaction to where we are now,” board member Jeff Redick said.

Still, board member Patrick O’Shea said, the possibility should be considered.

“If the board votes it down, I hope those who are against it have some alternative plan,” he said. “Because we’re going to need it.”

Here’s what Cook County officials ‘got’ for their votes - Gregg Goslin, Commissioner, 14th District; Liz Doody-Gorman, Commissioner, 17th District; Pete Silvestri, Commissioner, 9th District; Mike Quigley, Commissioner, 10th District 

http://www.dailyherald.com/opinion/fencepost.asp

After years of effort by various commissioners, we are proud to report that the commitment to downsize the bloated, inefficient and costly Cook County government has finally begun.

The 2007 county budget, as amended, was approved at 2:31 a.m. on Feb. 23, after a 17-hour meeting. The budget was ultimately balanced by an amendment, drafted and sponsored by us.

This budget was approved by a vote of 13 of 17 commissioners. This budget was a victory for all Cook County residents — a balanced budget without a tax increase. An odd coalition of county commissioners sponsored a competing “omnibus” amendment.

Their amendment would not have balanced the budget as required by law. It was primarily drafted by representatives of various labor unions, did not earn the majority support and was easily defeated.

Sponsors of this defeated amendment have publicly questioned, in not-so-subtle terms, the motivation behind our successful amendment, which balanced the budget without a tax increase. They have publicly asked what we “got” in exchange for offering this amendment. It’s simple. Here is what we got:

•A budget that began with a $500 million deficit, balanced without a tax increase and without sleight-of-hand maneuvers, without selling land that has never been approved for sale by the board and without other budgeting tricks contained in the omnibus amendment.

•A budget that contains 2,200 fewer employees in 2007 than it did in 2006 — for a savings of over $120 million. The omnibus amendment cut 712 employees, then added back 827 employees for a net gain of 115 employees, adding $7.6 million additional dollars to the already-bloated budget.

•A budget that made history by cutting the most sacred of sacred cows: the dysfunctional Bureau of Health, and with it, mandates an aggressive bureau-wide reorganization.

•A budget that chopped personnel from the top, from the middle and from the bottom.

•A budget that restored front-line states attorneys, public defenders, sheriff’s police and deputies; A budget that restored health care programs for working families, dental services for children in need and victim witness and other vitally needed protection programs for at-risk men, women and children.

Any time suburban Republicans and city Democrats can forge an alliance to cut costs, streamline operations and balance a $3 billion budget without a tax increase or voodoo arithmetic is good, responsible government, and we are proud to be sponsors.

Bush should send his daughters to war - Lanlan Hoo, Wheaton 

http://www.dailyherald.com/opinion/fencepost.asp 

If President Bush truly believes that the Iraq war is worth fighting for, and he is indeed the genuine patriot he professes to be, he ought to send one or both of his daughters to serve in Iraq. After all, it was he who initiated this travesty of a war, and who is stubbornly escalating it.

If Prince Harry of Great Britain is going to serve in Iraq, why shouldn’t a daughter of President Bush? Are we less democratic than the British? Is Bush’s family more privileged than the British royal family?

Perhaps Mr. Bush thinks that the lives of other Americans are less precious and more disposable than the lives of his daughters.

BEACON NEWS

Local soldier thought 'treatment was good'  5 weeks in coma: Wounded Aurora GI hazy about time at Walter Reed - Andre Salles
http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/beaconnews/news/286089,2_1_AU07_REED_S2.article

(FROM THE ARTICLE: Lauzen visit While at Walter Reed, Rojas received a visit from state Sen. Chris Lauzen, an Aurora Republican who was on hand for Illinois National Guardsman Tammy Duckworth's promotion to the rank of major. Duckworth now is head of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. Lauzen said he did not notice any unsanitary conditions at Walter Reed -- but he wasn't looking for them, either. "I was stunned and transfixed by the pain I saw in those rooms," Lauzen said. "I wasn't checking the plumbing and the insulation. If you ask me if I remember the conditions, the answer is no." Lauzen said during his brief time there he came away with the impression that the families at Walter Reed were receiving the priority and attention they needed. He expressed sorrow at the testimony that has come out in recent days and said our soldiers "deserve all the care we can give them.")
 
Victor Rojas doesn't remember much about Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

He was there for four months, starting in November of 2004, and he spent the first five weeks of his time there comatose. Rojas, a corporal in the Army at the time, was wounded in Iraq when a rocket-propelled grenade shattered his right leg and left him bleeding and near death.

Rojas woke up shortly before Christmas, but spent until February of 2005 being cared for at Walter Reed. That same facility has been the subject of impassioned testimony in front of a House panel this week, after word of unsanitary conditions and inattentive treatment there became public.

Rojas said both his room and the house his family stayed in while he recovered were clean and that he couldn't remember any specific complaints he had with the care he received. However, he said his mother had some concerns over the attentiveness of the nurses, especially during Rojas' coma.

He told one story about his IV slipping from his arm and said that, if his mother hadn't been there to reinsert it, he might have suffered loss of blood.

Overall, though, "I thought the treatment was good," Rojas said.

Lauzen visit

While at Walter Reed, Rojas received a visit from state Sen. Chris Lauzen, an Aurora Republican who was on hand for Illinois National Guardsman Tammy Duckworth's promotion to the rank of major. Duckworth now is head of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.

Lauzen said he did not notice any unsanitary conditions at Walter Reed -- but he wasn't looking for them, either.

"I was stunned and transfixed by the pain I saw in those rooms," Lauzen said. "I wasn't checking the plumbing and the insulation. If you ask me if I remember the conditions, the answer is no."

Lauzen said during his brief time there he came away with the impression that the families at Walter Reed were receiving the priority and attention they needed. He expressed sorrow at the testimony that has come out in recent days and said our soldiers "deserve all the care we can give them."  

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

Illinois House votes to roll back electric rates - 
(ARTICLE INCLUDES QUOTES FROM: Bill Black, Ron Stevens, and Dave Winters.) 
The Illinois House on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to roll
back the state's soaring electric rates and freeze them at last year's levels,
while forcing Ameren to repay to consumers the higher rates they've already
paid.

But the measure faces an uncertain future in the Senate, which previously shut
down a similar House bill.

Electric bills for customers of Ameren and ComEd rose sharply this year, after
the two utilities were deregulated after nine years of frozen rates.

Besieged by citizens' complaints, House members have pushed for the past three
weeks to undo the new rates and return to a rate freeze, despite the utilities'
claims that the move would drive them into bankruptcy.

"This is such an emotional issue that you can't even have a discussion with
your constituents," said Rep. Bill Black, a Republican from Danville.

"My constituents have overwhelmed me with e-mails, letters, calls. They don't
want to 'discuss' this."

The House approved the bill 92 to 5, with 19 members voting present. Members
debated the proposal for almost an hour, one week after holding 13 hours of
hearings on the issue in a special meeting of the whole House.

Rep. Ron Stevens, R-Greenville, called the problem "the most important issue
facing Illinois today."

Senate President Emil Jones had no comment on the House bill or what action he
plans to take on it now that it has reached the Senate. A longtime opponent of
extending or reinstating the rate freeze, the Chicago Democrat has recently
left open the possibility of providing some kind of rate relief for Ameren
customers but has said he remains personally opposed to a new rate freeze.

The bill's requirement for the utilities to pay back customers for the higher
rates, with interest, has been seen by many as a tool to force the utility
companies to the negotiating table.

However, Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, who brought a basket of high electric
bills from constituents with him to the House floor, said the bill represents a
solution in itself.

"Are we going to stand up for our people?" Bradley asked his colleagues. "Are
we going to do the right thing? … If (this bill) gets people to the bargaining
table, so be it. If not, we've done the right thing."

Rep. Dave Winters, R-Shirland, spoke out strongly against the proposal on the
House floor, worrying that a rate freeze will cause the utilities to become
insolvent. He criticized the bill as wielding a legislative sledgehammer to fix
a problem that is focused on all-electric consumers in Southern Illinois.

"We're going to destroy the utility industry in Illinois by trying to help a
few thousand people (that) we could help with a small bill," Winters said.

In the end, Winters was one of the 19 members who voted present. Thirteen
Republicans voted present on the bill, caught in the political vice between
their party's pro-business mantra and their constituents' anger over the rate
hikes. Six Democrats voted present.

The bill is HB1750.
 
BELLEVILLE NEWS DEMOCRAT
Patrick Fitzgerald: `Elliot Ness with a Harvard degree' wins his biggest case - Rudolph Bush and Matt O'Connor
(FROM THE ARTICLE: At 5 1/2 years in office, Fitzgerald has already had the longest tenure of any U.S. attorney in Chicago in almost half a century. If he were removed now, the White House likely would face a firestorm of protest, especially since the Democratic congress is already looking into whether the administration played politics in the recent firings of other U.S. attorneys. In Chicago and around the state, meanwhile, Fitzgerald has made political enemies with his office's successful prosecutions of Ryan and high-ranking members of Mayor Richard Daley's administration as well as the indictment of a top fundraiser for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Antoin "Tony" Rezko. Nevertheless, he has received endorsements from Republicans and Democrats serving Illinois in congress. Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who has worked closely with Fitzgerald on gang and drug issues, said he enjoys a great deal of support. "I see no partisanship in him whatsoever," Kirk said. "He's the ideal face of a prosecutor who just follows the wrongdoing wherever it leads. But former Gov. Jim Thompson, a Republican and former U.S. attorney, scoffed at the idea that someone in Fitzgerald's position can become politically "untouchable.""Nobody is in that category," Thompson said. "He serves at the pleasure of the president.")
 
 
Patrick Fitzgerald has been living a dual life.

As the top federal prosecutor in northern Illinois, Fitzgerald has solidified a reputation as a no-nonsense corruption buster, an "Elliot Ness with a Harvard degree," as a friend once described him.

In his other job, as the Justice Department's special counsel investigating the leak of a CIA agent's identity, Fitzgerald, 46, has stood in the spotlight of Washington partisans, praised and pilloried over the prosecution of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

On Tuesday, the career prosecutor scored the highest-profile victory of his career with Libby's conviction for obstructing justice and lying to a grand jury.

A loss surely would have called into question his tenure as special counsel. But the jury's verdict is vindication for Fitzgerald, who was sharply criticized for failing to indict anyone for the leak of CIA agent Valerie Wilson's name to reporters.

"It was important for Pat to win, and he did," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Patrick Collins, the lead prosecutor in the trial of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan.

Even with a win, Fitzgerald returns to Chicago as a controversial figure on the national stage.

To many, he is the prime example of an overzealous lawman, securing an indictment by stomping on age-old traditions such as the secrecy of reporters' sources.

To others, he is one of the few prosecutors willing and able to take on entrenched politicians and their cronies.

Meanwhile, there is some question whether Libby' conviction, an embarrassment for the Bush administration, will have political ramifications for Fitzgerald.

At 5 1/2 years in office, Fitzgerald has already had the longest tenure of any U.S. attorney in Chicago in almost half a century.

If he were removed now, the White House likely would face a firestorm of protest, especially since the Democratic congress is already looking into whether the administration played politics in the recent firings of other U.S. attorneys.

In Chicago and around the state, meanwhile, Fitzgerald has made political enemies with his office's successful prosecutions of Ryan and high-ranking members of Mayor Richard Daley's administration as well as the indictment of a top fundraiser for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Antoin "Tony" Rezko.

Nevertheless, he has received endorsements from Republicans and Democrats serving Illinois in congress. Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who has worked closely with Fitzgerald on gang and drug issues, said he enjoys a great deal of support.

"I see no partisanship in him whatsoever," Kirk said. "He's the ideal face of a prosecutor who just follows the wrongdoing wherever it leads.

But former Gov. Jim Thompson, a Republican and former U.S. attorney, scoffed at the idea that someone in Fitzgerald's position can become politically "untouchable."

"Nobody is in that category," Thompson said. "He serves at the pleasure of the president."

Those who know Fitzgerald well say the Libby case might change perceptions of him but they won't change the man.

"Pat is not a guy who is self-aggrandizing. He's not going to do his job or approach his job any differently," said Zachary Fardon, a friend of Fitzgerald's and a former prosecutor who helped convict Ryan.

When Fitzgerald arrived in Chicago in 2001, he was known in legal circles as the nation's pre-eminent terror prosecutor.

He secured a conviction in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and drafted an indictment of Osama Bin Laden prior to the attacks of Sept. 11.

But his office's efforts here to prosecute terror cases have been less successful. In the high-profile cases of Enaam Arnaout and Muhammad Salah, prosecutors failed to convict either man of terrorism though they were found guilty of lesser crimes.

Greater success has come in the area of public corruption, a traditional strength of the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago. In addition to Ryan, prosecutors under Fitzgerald convicted Daley's former patronage chief, Robert Sorich, of corruption.

While Fitzgerald may be the face of the fight against corruption in Chicago, he has decidedly more mixed image around the country.

His prosecution of Libby has come under constant scrutiny for the tactics and judgment he used.

Neither man was a household name prior to their intersection in the leak investigation.

Today, they are inextricably linked: Libby became the sole target of special counsel Fitzgerald, a prosecutor given an unusual degree of power to discover who provided CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson's name to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak.

In the end, no one was charged with leaking her name to Novak. Libby was accused, however, of lying to a grand jury and federal agents by telling them he learned of Wilson's status as a CIA agent from reporters, when, in fact, he was confidentially providing that information to the press.

To indict Libby, Fitzgerald had to know that he had provided Wilson's name to reporters. Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for 86 days before she revealed Libby as her source. Former Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper was days from jail before he agreed to disclose that Libby provided him Wilson's name.

Mark Corallo was the top Justice Department spokesman when Fitzgerald was named special counsel. He recalls being taken aback by the decision to subpoena and then jail reporters until they revealed their sources.

"There has always been a great respect for reporters' privilege (in the Justice Department)," said Corallo, whose public relations firm now represents Libby.

But Fitzgerald brushed aside longstanding guidelines at Justice to get his man, Corallo said.

Meanwhile, Fitzgerald failed to ever charge anyone with the original crime he was supposed to investigate - the leak of Wilson's name.

"This was not about the Bush administration. This was about Patrick Fitzgerald. There were no checks on his authority. There was no one who could say no to him," Corallo said.

Fitzgerald's former boss, former New York U.S. Atty. Mary Jo White, defended the one-time prodigy of her office.

Fitzgerald wasn't overreaching by bringing a perjury case but not charging anyone for the leak that triggered his inquiry, she said.

Lying to a grand jury "basically prevents you from getting at the truth," White said. "You really need to draw a very hard line on perjury."

Besides, it isn't as if Fitzgerald is a green prosecutor without the savvy to understand the consequences of his decisions, she said.

"He's a politically-appointed U.S. attorney, and he has full docket of other cases and a huge reservoir of experience to draw on in making this decision. It's not like his only job is this case."

Assistant U.S. attorneys in Chicago say his frequent absences to Washington since late 2003 have largely gone unnoticed. When he was out of town, Fitzgerald stayed on top of local investigations by e-mail and conference call, they said.

The number of indictments have dropped from Fitzgerald's first year in office, but his spokesman said Tuesday that was the result of a falloff in the number of prosecutors and not because Fitzgerald's attention had been diverted from his Chicago duties.

However, one insider said that, at least during Libby's trial, prosecutorial decisions in the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago were sometimes delayed or deferred.

With the verdict, Fitzgerald appears ready to return to his Chicago duties full-time. He told reporters following Libby's conviction that the active investigation was over and that he didn't expect new charges.

"We're all going back to our day jobs," Fitzgerald told reporters.

Despite the burden of Fitzgerald's absence, prosecutors under him in Chicago almost unfailingly praise their boss in candid, background interviews.

While he takes aggressive legal positions, he absolutely believes in the correctness of his approach. He has no hidden motives, he's apolitical and is willing to risk losing cases if he thinks a crime has been committed, they said.

"I do believe for Pat this case is as simple as he is protecting the integrity of the grand jury process," David Rosenbloom, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice. "I don't think the larger political story is what interests Pat."

Some critics, though, blast Fitzgerald's judgment as skewed by his one dimensional career as a prosecutor.

Ronald Safer, a criminal-defense lawyer involved in a number of high-profile corruption cases in Chicago, gives Fitzgerald high grades for energy, independence and fearlessness but a D-minus "for empathy."

"Until you have a client, until you hear firsthand the other side of the story, it's impossible to fully appreciate that perspective," said Safer, a former federal prosecutor. "I think it is very difficult to not see things in black and white if you haven't walked a mile in the other person's shoes."

But for Fitzgerald cases often do boil down to black-and-white facts. After Libby was convicted, Fitzgerald told reporters, "The truth is what drives the justice system."

ABC7
Blagojevich to seek $1.5 billion increase in school funding - Andy Shaw
(FROM THE ARTICLE: "People will move businesses when they can, and for the taxpayers themselves, somebody has to pay it, and it will be passed along in certain kinds of fashions, especially on consumer items" said Greg Baise, Illinois Manufacturing Association..."This is Governor Blagojevich on steroids. This is the largest single tax increase in the history of Illinois," said State Sen. Kirk Dillard, (R) Hinsdale.) 
 
Gov. Rod Blagojevich plans to ask lawmakers to increase education spending by nearly one-fourth next year, just one of many big proposals stuffed into the State of the State address he will deliver Wednesday.

The governor will ask the General Assembly to pass his spending plan Wednesday, but Tuesday night, it is already sparking reaction and some criticism.

The governor has been out of the spotlight since his inauguration in January, but Wednesday he is back on center stage with what is arguably the biggest, most ambitious taxing and spending plan in decades aimed at the intractable problems of education, health care and pensions.

The governor's budget is likely to start the mother of all legislative and lobbying battles in Springfield, but the governor, emboldened by his big re-election victory in November, says bring it on.

"We can do now, this year, at this time, in this place, at this moment in history, something that they have only talked about here for 30 years. We can get it done for the middle class," said Blagojevich.

The governor wants to pump $10 billion new dollars into public education over the next four years to bail out the poorest school districts, expand pre-school and kindergarten programs and increase special education reimbursements to the suburbs. The funding source is a new tax on business revenues aimed primarily at the largest companies, many of which pay no corporate income tax in Illinois.

The smallest businesses would be exempt along with firms that sell food and medicine.

"We are going turn a regressive tax system into a fair tax system," said the governor.

"People will move businesses when they can, and for the taxpayers themselves, somebody has to pay it, and it will be passed along in certain kinds of fashions, especially on consumer items" said Greg Baise, Illinois Manufacturing Association.

State Sen. Debbie Halvorson, (D) Chicago Heights, said she is not yet convinced the governor's tax plan is fair. "I want to make sure that it is fair," said Halvorson.

On Sunday Blagojevich unveiled a $2 billion plan for universal health care, with businesses again footing the bill with new taxes, and Monday the administration revived a plan to lease the state lottery for more than $10 billion and to borrow $16 billion more to put the state's shaky pension system back on solid ground.

"This is Governor Blagojevich on steroids. This is the largest single tax increase in the history of Illinois," said State Sen. Kirk Dillard, (R) Hinsdale.

"This is the time to do it. I've learned in government, if you don't seize the opportunity when it is there, it passes you by and you never have the chance to do it," Blagojevich said.

The governor knows the battle lines will be drawn from the moment he presents his budget proposal Wednesday at noon. On one side, you will have the health and education lobbies pushing for the plan. On the other side, Republicans and business groups will be arguing against it. Blagojevich's Democratic allies will be caught in the middle.

The governor does say that he has little room to negotiate on this. He is insisting that his health and education plans must be passed very similar to what he is proposing. It seems like pensions are the area that have the most give. All this begins Wednesday at noon when the governor lays out the budget in the State of the State address.

U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald at the top of his game - Chuck Goudie
A federal jury Tuesday convicted Lewis "Scooter" Libby in the CIA leak, perjury trial. The conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide is the latest in a remarkable string of courtroom victories Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney in Chicago. He was named special prosecutor in the CIA case. ABC7 investigative reporter Chuck Goudie has more on Fitzgerald's amazing track record in this Intelligence Report.
Patrick Fitzgerald grew up playing an often bloody game called rugby. During rugby games, opposing players swarm over the ball and fight for possession in what is known as a scrum. For the last four months, Fitzgerald has been in Washington, in a legal scrum, and his competition has been some of the top criminal defenders in the nation. At the center of the scrum: the truth about the vice president's chief of staff. Tuesday afternoon, Fitzgerald emerged with the ball.

"Any lie under oath is serious. Any prosecutor would tell you in my days in New York, in my current days in Chicago, that we cannot tolerate perjury. The truth is what drives our legal system. If people don't come forward and tell the truth, we have no hope of making the judicial system work," said Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. special prosecutor.

Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is at the top of his game. Tuesday, he led the team that beat Scooter Libby's defense. After Fitzgerald's four year investigation, five month trial and 10 days of deliberations, Libby was convicted of one count of obstruction, two counts of perjury and one count of lying to the FBI about how he learned the identity of CIA official Valerie Plame and who he told.

Ron Safer is a former federal prosecutor in Chicago and now a top criminal defense lawyer. Despite Tuesday's conviction, an embarrassment to the Bush administration, Safer told the I-Team he thinks Fitzgerald will be U.S. attorney in Chicago through the rest of the Bush presidency but not to look for him ever as attorney general.

"He would be happy going back to being an assistant U.S. attorney," said Safer.

Fitzgerald proved that Libby learned about Plame from Vice President Dick Cheney, who counted Libby as his most trusted adviser. Libby then discussed her name with some reporters and concocted a story to cover-up those discussions when he realized that he was a target.

"I do not expect to file any further charges. Basically the investigation was inactive prior to the trial. I would not expect to see any further charges filed," Fitzgerald said.

"I was somewhat surprised to hear that and somewhat disappointed to hear that," said Safer. "The investigation was obstructed to some extent, as the jury found today, but that's not the nub of the case, and unfortunately they never got to the nub of the case."

When Pat Fitzgerald gets back to Chicago -- probably by car, he prefers to drive -- he will find a full plate on the desk of his office where he frequently dines and sleeps, starting with the Conrad Black/Sun-Times fraud trial, and then the Operation Family Secrets mob murder and rackets case.

The prize Fitzgerald would really like is leftover from his days as a terrorism prosecutor in New York: Osama Bin Laden.

NEW YORK TIMES

Disinvitation of Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., senior pastor of the popular Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, by Obama Is Criticized - Jodi Kantor

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/06/us/politics/06obama.html?_r=3&oref=slogin&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

CHICAGO, March 5 — The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., senior pastor of the popular Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and spiritual mentor to Senator Barack Obama, thought he knew what he would be doing on Feb. 10, the day of Senator Obama’s presidential announcement.

After all, back in January, Mr. Obama had asked Mr. Wright if he would begin the event by delivering a public invocation.

But Mr. Wright said Mr. Obama called him the night before the Feb. 10 announcement and rescinded the invitation to give the invocation.

“Fifteen minutes before Shabbos I get a call from Barack,” Mr. Wright said in an interview on Monday, recalling that he was at an interfaith conference at the time. “One of his members had talked him into uninviting me,” Mr. Wright said, referring to Mr. Obama’s campaign advisers.

Some black leaders are questioning Mr. Obama’s decision to distance his campaign from Mr. Wright because of the campaign’s apparent fear of criticism over Mr. Wright’s teachings, which some say are overly Afrocentric to the point of excluding whites.

Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said the campaign disinvited Mr. Wright because it did not want the church to face negative attention. Mr. Wright did however, attend the announcement and prayed with Mr. Obama beforehand.

“Senator Obama is proud of his pastor and his church, but because of the type of attention it was receiving on blogs and conservative talk shows, he decided to avoid having statements and beliefs being used out of context and forcing the entire church to defend itself,” Mr. Burton said.

Instead, Mr. Obama asked Mr. Wright’s successor as pastor at Trinity, the Rev. Otis Moss III, to speak. Mr. Moss declined.

In recent weeks, word of Mr. Obama’s treatment of Mr. Wright has reached black leaders like the Rev. Al Sharpton and given them pause.

“I have not discussed this with Senator Obama in detail, but I can see why callers of mine and other clergymen would be concerned, because the issue is standing by your own pastor,” Mr. Sharpton said.

Mr. Wright’s church, the 8,000-member Trinity United Church of Christ, is considered mainstream — Oprah Winfrey has attended services, and many members are prominent black professionals. But the church is also more Afrocentric and politically active than standard black congregations.

Mr. Wright helped organize the 1995 Million Man March on Washington and along with other United Church of Christ ministers was one of the first black religious leaders to protest apartheid and welcome gay and lesbian worshippers.

Since Mr. Obama made his presidential ambitions clear, conservatives have drawn attention to his close relationship to Mr. Wright and to the church’s emphasis on black empowerment. Tucker Carlson of MSNBC called the precepts “racially exclusive” and “wrong.” Last week, on the Fox News program “Hannity & Colmes,” Erik Rush, a conservative columnist, called the church “quite cultish, quite separatist.”

In Monday’s interview, Mr. Wright expressed disappointment but no surprise that Mr. Obama might try to play down their connection.

“When his enemies find out that in 1984 I went to Tripoli” to visit Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Mr. Wright recalled, “with Farrakhan, a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell.” Mr. Wright added that his trip implied no endorsement of either Louis Farrakhan’s views or Qaddafi’s.

Mr. Wright said that in the phone conversation in which Mr. Obama disinvited him from a role in the announcement, Mr. Obama cited an article in Rolling Stone, “The Radical Roots of Barack Obama.”

According to the pastor, Mr. Obama then told him, “You can get kind of rough in the sermons, so what we’ve decided is that it’s best for you not to be out there in public.”

CRAIN'S CHICAGO BUSINESS
Illinois House OKs bill to scrap rate hikes - 
http://www.chicagobusiness.com/cgi-bin/news.pl?id=24127
The Illinois House overwhelmingly approved legislation that would eliminate electric rate hikes that took effect Jan. 1 and freeze prices at last year’s levels for another three years.

The bill passed on a 92-5 vote with 19 members voting present. The margins for the bill substantially exceeded the 71 garnered when the House passed similar legislation in January.

The bill still is unlikely to become law since it continues to be opposed by Senate President Emil Jones. But it signifies the momentum that’s building against the rate hikes that state regulators approved last year for Commonwealth Edison Co. and Ameren Corp.

Rates have gone up by an average of 24% for ComEd customers and up to 55% for Ameren customers. But some customers who previously had benefited from rate discounts because they heat their homes with electricity have seen increases of up to 300% in parts of Downstate Illinois.

Blagojevich wants big boost in education money - AP

http://www.chicagobusiness.com/cgi-bin/news.pl?id=24129

Gov. Rod Blagojevich plans to ask lawmakers to increase education spending by nearly one-fourth next year, just one of many big proposals stuffed into the State of the State address he will deliver Wednesday.

Aides said Tuesday that he will seek a $1.5-billion boost in state school funds, which now stand at $6.5 billion.

Blagojevich policy adviser Kristin Richards called it "truly a monumental increase. It will be the first time the state is putting $1.5 billion in new dollars into education in one fiscal year."

The Chicago Democrat also is expected to propose making health insurance available for everyone in Illinois, imposing a new tax on business transactions, leasing the state lottery to a private contractor and borrowing billions of dollars to help struggling pension systems.

The speech, which will combine the State of the State and the budget addresses that are usually delivered separately, could be the most ambitious of Blagojevich's four years in office.

The $1.5 billion in additional school spending would allow for a significant increase in the state's "foundation level" — the minimum amount of money guaranteed for every student. The level would jump by $686, hitting $6,020, Richards said.

That would still be short of the $6,405 that an expert panel recommended in 2005.

Besides boosting basic spending levels, Blagojevich's proposal would increase reimbursement rates for special education teachers for the first time in more than 20 years and give schools full funding for "categoricals" such as transportation. Those changes would tend to benefit wealthier districts that don't get much state aid.

Blagojevich also plans to call for $1.5 billion in construction money to help districts build new schools and repair old ones, Richards said.

The governor's school proposals are big, but they may not please some education advocates, including Blagojevich allies.

They want a major overhaul of the way Illinois funds education so that schools don't rely so heavily on property taxes. Blagojevich's proposal would pump more money into the existing system, although Richards said they are trying to improve the system with more accountability and incentives for districts to consolidate.

She would not discuss how Blagojevich plans to come up with the education money or the construction funds, saying the governor will discuss that in Wednesday's speech.

But everyone in Springfield expects Blagojevich to propose a major new tax, perhaps the biggest in Illinois history.

The "gross receipts tax" would apply to business transactions — essentially requiring a business to pay the state every time it takes in money. The tax would be coupled with a phase-out of the state's corporate income tax.

The tax could be structured in a way to exempt small businesses and lower the impact on manufacturers. Still, business groups are sharply critical, saying the tax would give companies a strong incentive to buy supplies in other states or simply leave Illinois.

A gross receipts tax would also help pay for "Illinois Covered," the governor's plan to make health insurance available for the 1.4 million Illinois adults who now lack coverage.

The administration estimates the program would cost about $2.1 billion a year when implemented completely.

The state's government pension systems are on shaky financial ground, with a big gap between the assets and the benefits they must pay out. Blagojevich plans to propose filling part of that gap by leasing the lottery to a private contractor and borrowing billions of dollars and investing it.

The administration says those two steps could generate $16 billion.

BLOOMINGTON PANTAGRAPH

Illinois House votes to cut electric rates - Mike Riopell
http://www.pantagraph.com/articles/2007/03/06/news/doc45edfecd0b568646262150.txt

SPRINGFIELD -- Some House lawmakers hope the third time is the charm to roll back steep increases in Illinois electric rates.

The Illinois House voted again Tuesday to reduce electricity costs to their 2006 levels after a 10-year freeze on rates expired at the beginning of the year.

House lawmakers had voted twice before on whether to reduce rates, but the effort has gone nowhere in the Senate.

Nevertheless, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said drawing more attention to the issue has still brought change even if the legislation itself never succeeds.

Spokesman Steve Brown says more than a dozen hours of hearings last week prompted the Illinois Commerce Commission to investigate billing methods by both of the state’s major electric companies, Ameren and ComEd. And Ameren offered $35 million in relief to homeowners.

But the staunchest House supporters of rolling back rates continued their passionate pleas despite a lack of help from the Senate. State Rep. John Bradley, a Marion Democrat who has been leading the charge, spoke from the House floor with stacks of electric bills on his desk.

“We can’t control what other people are going to do,” he said.

When the House last approved a rate rollback plan, 71 lawmakers voted “yes.” Tuesday, 92 did. Among those changing their votes to support the rate freeze was state Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville, state Rep. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, and state Rep. Rich Brauer, a Petersburg Republican.

State Rep. Dan Brady, a Bloomington Republican, said nothing will happen unless the House and Senate compromise or the commerce commission provides immediate relief.

“Everything else is for show,” Brady said.

SPRINGFIELD STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER
Governor plans new bond issue, lease of lottery to ease massive pension burden - Doug Finke
Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Wednesday will propose issuing another $16 billion in bonds and leasing the state lottery to reduce Illinois' crushing pension debt.

Between the two proposals, administration officials said, the state can dramatically improve the funding picture for its pension systems and save billions of dollars over the next 40 years.

Administration officials also said their plan will make annual contributions to the pension plans more predictable. Unlike two years ago, Blagojevich does not plan to recommend any money-saving changes in pension benefits for future state employees.

Government retirees have been promised billions of dollars worth of benefits in coming decades, but the state hasn't put aside nearly enough money to pay for it. The gap, known as "unfunded liability," topped $42 billion at the end of the last budget year - the worst mark in the country.

With the plan to be announced during Blagojevich's budget speech, the state will issue $16 billion in lower-interest pension-obligation bonds, similar to the $10 billion, 30-year bond issue made in 2003 after the Democratic governor first took office. The new bonds also would be paid off during a number of years.

The plan calls for a further influx of money by leasing the lottery. The administration assumes it will collect $10 billion from a lottery lease, all of which will be devoted to paying off pension debt.

Blagojevich originally floated the idea of selling or leasing the lottery last summer when state Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, was threatening to run against him for governor unless education got a huge influx of money from the state. Meeks said last week he doesn't care where Blagojevich finds the money as long as the governor comes up with a $2 billion increase for education.

Some lawmakers have balked at the idea of selling or leasing a state asset for education, mainly because the initial funding increase would run out after four years.

Justin DeJong, a spokesman for Blagojevich's budget office, said Monday the plan will save the state $60 billion over the next 38 years because the state pays 8.5 percent interest on the outstanding pension debt and can borrow the money at a lower interest rate.

To some legislators, however, exchanging debt in one area for debt in another is no real accomplishment.

"I'm real skittish about looking at any more hard debt," said Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, though he noted that many lawmakers know the state cannot afford to keep to the schedule set out in a 1995 law that calls for ramping up pension payments.

"Right now, it's basically scaling a cliff," Mautino said. "We need to flatten it out to a hill."

House Republican votes will be needed to pass a bond issue, which requires a three-fifths' super-majority in the both the Democratically controlled House and Senate. A spokesman for House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego said his members want to examine the plan's details.

"We hope this is a sincere effort to put back money into a system that has been raided," said David Dring. "We're also skeptical of selling state assets, especially one that produces revenue."

In the past two state budgets, lawmakers diverted $1.3 billion from the five state-funded pension systems - for state employees, teachers outside of Chicago, university workers, judges and lawmakers - and used the money for other expenses.

At this point, Blagojevich and the General Assembly must come up with an additional $610 million for pension payments in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Doug Finke can be reached at 788-1527 or doug.finke@sj-r.com.

Where to catch budget address

STATE CAPITOL BUREAU

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's budget address will be broadcast live Wednesday through various media outlets in the Springfield area, as well as on the Internet.

The speech also will be simulcast at Union Baptist Church, 1405 E. Monroe St.

During the speech, which begins at noon, the governor is expected to outline his plans for a health insurance program that could cover all Illinoisans, as well as other initiatives in areas such as education, criminal justice and human services. As in past years, he will combine his State of the State speech with the outline of his budget proposals.

Springfield-area broadcast outlets carrying the speech live include WSEC-TV, WILL-TV, WUIS-FM, WMAY-AM and WTAX-AM. WSEC will rebroadcast the speech at 10 p.m. Wednesday.

It will be broadcast on the Internet at www.ilga.gov. Links to the Internet broadcast also will be available at www.sj-r.com.

Those wishing to view the simulcast at Union Baptist are urged to reserve seats by visiting www.rsvp.illinois.gov or calling (312) 491-8171. Doors will open at 11:30 a.m., and visitors can bring brown bag lunches.

Today, a group of religious leaders from throughout the state will hold a noon prayer service in the Capitol rotunda in support of the proposed health insurance program, called Illinois Covered. They will ring bells 18 times in support of the estimated 1.4 million uninsured Illinoisans.

GALESBURG REGISTER-MAIL

Risinger 'gimmick' to catch attention  Lawmaker organizes protest outside governor's office Wednesday - Molly Parker

http://www.register-mail.com/stories/030607/LOC_BCIPR1VG.GID.shtml

PEORIA - State Sen. Dale Risinger has never been known for pulling media stunts, so his somewhat sarcastic comment toward Gov. Rod Blagojevich last week, and his planned protest outside the governor's office Wednesday, seem somewhat out of character for the Peoria Republican.

Risinger and two other lawmakers are hosting "Bring Your Electric Bills to the Governor" day at 11 a.m. Wednesday, the day Blagojevich will deliver his budget speech. Protesters will be meeting on the second floor of the Capitol, right outside Blagojevich's office. Attendees are encouraged to bring their bills with all personal information marked out.

"Is it a gimmick? Yeah it is," Risinger said. "But it's to try to get the attention of the governor and let him know that this is real. I think this is the biggest need that we have in front of us."

In a news release announcing the event, Risinger noted that higher utility rates are most severely affecting residents south of Chicago. AmerenCILCO utility rates jumped an average of 55 percent beginning Jan. 2, though many customers, particularly those who heat electrically, are experiencing much higher increases, in some cases more than 100 percent.

"This issue is probably not on the governor's radar screen," Risinger said, a clear slap at Blagojevich's penchant to govern from Chicago, not Springfield.

"It is up to residents of central and southern Illinois to remind him that he represents us all."

But Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said the governor has made it perfectly clear during the last several months that he supports extension of a freeze that would lock in the rates of the past decade for another three years.

"The legislative process appears to be working. ... We're cautiously optimistic we'll get the relief that consumers need this session," she said.

Risinger said he believes the governor is hiding behind the deadlocked House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones, both Chicago Democrats who have continuously failed to reach an agreement on how to offer relief to consumers.

Madigan favors a three-year rate freeze extension, while Jones has expressed concerns that such a move could bankrupt the utility companies. That means Blagojevich, as the state's chief, should step in and referee, Risinger said.

"Whenever you have both chambers in a stalemate, the governor ought to be calling some meetings of the leaders to see if they can't get something worked out that we can agree on."

Risinger said he decided to have the rally Wednesday because he doesn't otherwise know when to catch the governor outside of Chicago.

"I don't generally know when he's there," Risinger said, "but he will be Wednesday, so come and make your voices be heard in Springfield."

FAMILY TAXPAYERS NETWORK

Barack Obama: Audacity or Not, He’s Not Ready - John Biver

http://www.familytaxpayers.net/article.asp?id=1234

I know Barack Obama. No, he’s not a friend of mine – in fact I only met him once several years ago when he was an unknown state legislator. I believe I know him because we’re the same age and have spent the same amount of time in the same arena. I know the people he's been around and who are shaping his thinking: the community organizers, the academics, the political handlers, and the Springfield and D.C. types. I’ve even met a few ambitious political wives.
 
While many good-hearted individuals make up those ranks, there isn’t really much to learn from most of that crowd except the nature of the obstacles to achieving real reform.
 
The worst among them are the political handlers. These self-confident snake oil peddlers are expert at taking the substance out of the debate for the sole purpose of getting anyone elected and reelected. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich summed it up nicely by calling them “sick.”
 
It’s the political handlers and hacks that produced Obama’s candidacy. He admitted to CBS’s Steve Kroft back in February on 60 Minutes that he’s taking the advice of others: If I was on my own internal timetable, then I would be happy to wait ten years before I was running for higher office.”
 
The hacks don’t care if he’s not ready to lead the free world. They have to make a living, Obama can raise big money, and slick handlers can make a persuasive case for running when big money for them is at stake.
 
I checked Obama’s much-hailed second book out of the library and read it. The opening pages reveal a man who seems to carry fewer psychological issues than most of the political candidates I’ve met. He’s clearly a likeable guy. He’s just listening to the wrong people and believing his own good press. Something more is needed.
 
Those of us born in the early 1960s have lived in the wake of the most self-obsessed and confused generation ever to populate the nation – the Baby Boomers. The so-called “greatest generation” might have survived the depression and won a World War, but they failed as parents. Raising children in the relative peace and prosperity of the 1950s and early 60s meant that instilling timeless values and a proper grasp of history was critical.
 
Instead of producing a group of kids who appreciated the gift they were given, the “greatest generation” gave us the Boomers who saw themselves as the gift. As they entered college, protested, and burned their bras, their message was simple: all that was needed to usher in liberal utopia was for evil corporations, Republicans, and traditional mores to yield to their if-it-feels-good greater wisdom.
 
The most important task for those of us following in that wake was simply to realize the nature of that wake. After all, the clear lesson taught by the last forty years is that the Boomers aren’t all that wise.
 
Obama in fact likes the theme of generational change. He used the word “generation” in his February 10th announcement speech over a dozen times. But Obama’s audacious message seems to be that his new face is now all that’s needed to usher in that liberal utopia.
 
If Obama were smarter, he’d realize that turning the Democratic primaries into a generational contest is a mistake. Hillary Clinton and her people are tougher, more ruthless, and hungrier for power than 45-year-old Barack Obama.
 
Boomers who see themselves as the Enlightened Generation don’t think their time in the sun is over yet. Obama can’t rally enough X’ers and Y’ers to overcome the Boomer conceit. Expect the Clinton and Edwards camps to only get stronger each time Obama hints that it’s time for them to exit stage left.
 
Barack Obama contrasted himself with Abraham Lincoln when he announced his candidacy in Springfield, Illinois in February. Unfortunately for him that contrast reveals exactly what Obama lacks. In 1964 Robert Penn Warren wrote:
“Perhaps the historians are right who say that if we look at the portraits of the Founding Fathers we see faces of men strong, practical, intelligent, and self-assured—not burdened with excessive sensitivity. But we know that the strength of a Lincoln or a Grant was a different kind of strength, a strength somehow earned out of inner turmoil.”
In his book Statecraft as Soulcraft, George Will comments on Warren’s words:
“The faces of both Grant and his Commander bore the marks of lonely struggles to overcome bitter personal disappointments and failures in early life. But more than this, theirs were faces which had seen, close up, the climactic events which taught their countrymen the grim rules of life.”
A forty-five year old former law professor and state legislator and easily elected U.S. Senator has a fine outer resume. It’s the inner resume that comes into question. Every time Obama speaks you sense something is missing.
 
It’s dangerous ground to trek when making judgments about the inner geography of another individual. But tough times require tough leaders, and as voters we must consider all ability, including that found only on the unseen psychological terrain.
 
Above everything, judgment is king. There are smooth talking experts ready to set the course for any direction and the person behind the desk in the Oval Office must have the ability to discern what’s best.
 
It’s my view that Barack Obama should’ve decided against listening to the siren song of the politicos luring him into the race. He’s not ready. Watch him when he speaks. I see a man listening intensely to himself, searching for the validity of the words he’s saying.
 
Running the gauntlet of a very long presidential primary season might give him more of what he needs – but I doubt it will be enough. Even he seems to question his own readiness. When questioned by Steve Kroft in February he said:
“It's possible that, you know, after we go through this whole process, the voters conclude: You know? He's not ready. And I respect that. I don't expect that simply because I can move people in speeches that automatically qualifies me for this job. I think that I have to be tested and run through the paces, and I have to earn this job.”
On that point Barack Obama and I agree.
 
NEW YORK SUN
Does the Mitt Fit? - Andrew Ferguson
"Oh no, no, no," said the energetic young man when I asked him his name and where he was from. He was working the crowd at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

"Just say I'm a public-spirited person with an important warning."

Which is?

He raised a bony finger.

"Beware Mitt Romney!"

And then he was gone, vanished in the labyrinthine exhibition hall filled with booths for the National Tax Limitation Committee, the Leadership Institute — "For Conservatives Who Want to Win!" — stophernow.com, Working Families for Wal-Mart, and dozens of others.

All the young man left me with was a pair of foam slippers, flip-flops the lurid color of a crossing guard's vest. These were meant to illustrate the former Massachusetts governor's growing reputation as — you'll never guess — a flip-flopper.

"Romney: Where will he stand in 2009?" I read from the heel.

The fine print told me that in 1992, Mr. Romney voted for Paul Tsongas, a Democrat, for president.

Worse, it reported that in 1994, running against Senator Kennedy, Mr. Romney bragged, "I was an Independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I am not trying to return to Reagan-Bush" — a repudiation that most CPAC attendees would rank up there with the apostle Peter's in the wee hours of Good Friday.

And, finally, Mr. Romney in 2006: "Romney calls Ronald Reagan his ‘hero'."

All in all, this was one informative piece of foam rubber. And there were others highlighting Mr. Romney's shifting positions on gun control, abortion, and gay rights.

But will the flip-flops bother the party's base of conservative activists? Odd dynamics often seize a political campaign, crucial moments when a candidate sees a manageable difficulty spiral into a crisis.

Mr. Romney, who is trying to pump up his single-digit standing in opinion polls by appealing to social conservatives, has made himself vulnerable in one of the more dangerous of these moments — when doubts about a candidate's political philosophy, which can often be debated and eventually overcome, become doubts about the candidate's character, which usually can't.

Several conservative activists I talked with at the conference cited Mr. Romney's vote for Mr. Tsongas in the 1992 Massachusetts presidential primary. Yet, they were less disturbed by the vote itself than by Mr. Romney's more recent explanation of it.

"In Massachusetts, if you register as an Independent, you can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary," Mr. Romney told ABC interviewer George Stephanopoulos last month.

"When there was no real contest in the Republican primary, I'd vote in the Democrat party for the person who I thought would be the weakest opponent for Republicans."

Something here is too clever — either Mr. Romney's original idea of casting his vote strategically, or his ex-post facto fashioning of an excuse for how he came to vote for Mr. Tsongas, who was not, incidentally, the weakest candidate in the Democratic field in 1992.

The general impression of excessive cleverness probably isn't helped by Mr. Romney's astonishing resemblance to Bob Barker, venerable host of "The Price is Right," who shares the same chiseled jaw line and finely polished hair.

The game-show demeanor is on full display in a YouTube clip of Mr. Romney's 1994 debate with Mr. Kennedy that has spread with viral momentum to the email inboxes of Republican activists. Again the problem wasn't simply the views on social issues that Mr. Romney expressed — which are opposite to those he now holds — but also the evidently passionate, over-rehearsed sincerity with which he expressed them.

"You're not going to see me waver on that," he says on the 1994 clip after pledging his undying support for Roe v. Wade.

Now that he's wavered into favoring the repeal of Roe, a large number of the CPAC activists were happy to cheer him when he spoke to them last Friday afternoon. An overflow crowd gathered around closed-circuit TVs spaced throughout the Omni Shoreham Hotel to see him deliver a speech packed with conservative rhetoric.

It was, needless to say, flawlessly delivered. It was also laced with subtle digs at his rivals for the nomination.

Mr. Romney took the podium with his wife, Ann, "my sweetheart," as he insisted on calling her, to whom he's been married for 37 years and whom he now brandishes like a merit badge — something the activists were unlikely to see from other Republican candidates, such as the thrice-married Rudolph Giuliani and Newt Gingrich.

Mr. Romney pledged to work to repeal the campaign finance legislation called McCain-Feingold — emphasis on Mr. McCain. And he blasted the immigration-reform bill known as McCain-Kennedy — emphasis on Mr. McCain again, but on Mr. Kennedy too.

Mr. Romney made many pledges, in fact. He noted he was the first 2008 presidential candidate to sign a pledge never to raise taxes. He pledged that as president he would hold nondefense discretionary spending to the rate of inflation "minus 1 percent." He pledged to veto any budget that exceeded the cap.

He didn't pledge "never to waver" on that pledge — and evidently he didn't need to. On Saturday it was announced that Mr. Romney won the straw poll of the more than 1,700 CPAC registrants by a solid margin — 21% over runner-up Mr. Giuliani's 17%.

Among the conservative activists, the anti-flip-flopper flip-flops flopped — at least for now.

ACCURACY IN MEDIA

Coke and a Smoke for Obama - Andy Selepak

http://www.aim.org/aim_column/5283_0_3_0_C/

Would a President Obama be cool under pressure? Or would he panic under pressure?  Could we count on him to stand up to America's enemies? 

When it comes to "Obamamania," the media hysteria surrounding Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, it is still impossible to get the straight scoop about his personal history and habits, including his admitted use of cocaine on one or more occasions. Perhaps we are having trouble getting answers because the media have their own addiction, an addiction to a man they know little about. The media are in love with Obama and his life story, whatever that life story may be. 

We do know that during his formative years in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country, he attended a school where he studied the Koran. But this is a mostly forbidden topic for media coverage. Questioning whether a man raised on Islamic teachings has the "right stuff" to be president, while the U.S. engages in a war with Islamic fundamentalists, is somehow taboo or bigoted. The media don't want to go there, except in a casual manner suggesting there is nothing controversial that deserves our further attention. We are told that, at some point later in his life, he became a Christian. That's the end of the story, as far as the media are concerned. 

At the same time, we are not given any kind of definitive coverage of his use of cocaine, an issue that might impact how voters think of him. It is, after all, an illegal substance, and its use by Obama does present some very serious and difficult concerns about a candidate-if only the media would ask them.

Rather than go into detail about this, we are treated to stories about whether he or Hillary will get Hollywood's support, or the support of the black community, as they pursue a presidential run. All of this is a sideshow to the real story. What we need to know about Obama, since he is so new on the political scene, is what kind of person he really is. What kind of mind does he have? Is he clear-headed? 

In an age when terrorists, or nuclear and nuclear-capable states, might be tempted to strike America and kill hundreds of thousands of people, America must have a president with clear judgment. But what does it say about the judgment of a person who has admitted using illegal drugs?  

It has been reported that in his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father, he admitted using marijuana, cocaine and alcohol, as he was growing up. Obama himself wrote: "Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack [heroin] though." He told The State Journal-Register newspaper of Springfield, Illinois, that "I was a confused kid and was making a bunch of negative choices based on stereotypes of what I thought a tough young man should be. Those choices were misguided, a serious mistake. Growing up to be a man involves taking responsibility. By the time I was 20, I was no longer engaged in any of this stuff." 

We are led to believe that he started down the wrong path but suddenly woke up, realized the error of his ways, and made something out of himself. He strikes many as a real success story. But how often did he use cocaine? How did he get it? Did he become addicted? All of these are questions the media won't ask. His smoking habit, on the other hand, is big news, having been featured in Newsweek and his 60 Minutes interview.  

An article in the February 26, 2007 issue of Newsweek discusses how Obama has "reached for the occasional cigarette, especially in times of stress." Chris Carter, who runs QuitNet, the world's largest quit-smoking program, told the magazine that "a lot of doctors view this [nicotine addiction] as on par with overcoming a heroin addiction." In fact, according to Newsweek, the withdrawal symptoms from nicotine addiction for a longtime smoker like Obama can cause an individual to become cranky, have trouble sleeping and making decisions, and gaining weight. Newsweek reported that Obama chews Nicotine gum "throughout the day," which tempers the public signs of withdrawal from the drug, but is a clear indication that he is not over his addiction. 

The matter of breaking the habit is treated by Newsweek as if it were a badge of courage on Obama's part. Newsweek quotes Obama campaign communications director Robert Gibbs who told the magazine that Obama is "occasionally tempted but he's on the straight and narrow." He added, "Most people who are trying to quit are so concerned about failing they don't want to tell anybody. I think it's pretty bold of Obama to publicly, intensely try." 

Quitting smoking is an accomplishment, but just trying to quit means nothing. It certainly doesn't deserve accolades from the media. As the saying goes, "Quitting is easy; I've done it hundreds of times."

Inflating his nicotine addiction into the equivalent of overcoming tremendous human suffering and adversity, the Newsweek writers ask, "Who says quitters never win?" That assumes he will quit and that it should have any bearing on his fitness to be president.

Making this into a major issue, the online Newsweek article includes photos showing that some of America's previous Presidents were smokers. Ulysses S. Grant had a 20 cigar-a-day habit which led to his developing throat cancer. Eisenhower kicked a four-pack-a-day cigarette habit before becoming president. 

Obama's nicotine addiction is a serious threat to his own health but seems minor by comparison to the mental effects of cocaine and their possible impact on how he would conduct public policy. We hope he is able to kick the cigarette habit. But his cocaine use, which may or may not have turned into full-blown addiction, is something else entirely. The 45-year-old presidential candidate says that by the time he was 20, he "no longer engaged in any of that stuff," but what does this really mean for someone who has a problem with chemical addiction? Did he just stop cold turkey? What does it mean to stop engaging in that stuff?     

There are too many missing pieces to this man's life. We need to know more-much more. The public has a right to have a clear picture of the man in the middle of the media mania.

WASHINGTON POST

Can Rudy Get Past the First Date? - Ruth Marcus

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/06/AR2007030601596.html

Does America's Mayor want to be America's President?

Poll after poll suggests that Rudy Giuliani has a serious shot at winning his party's nomination, and therefore the presidency, despite his abortion rights/gay rights/gun control baggage.

But listening to Giuliani's lackluster speech to a conservative group last week, I was not convinced that he craves the job -- or that he has a particular vision of what he'd do if he got it.

For the party of orderly succession, this is an odd presidential season. Not only is there no Republican heir apparent, none of the three leading contenders presents anywhere near a perfect fit with his party's base voters.

They are a political Goldilocks story, except that for many Republican voters, none of these three bears feels just right: Mitt Romney is too flip-floppy; Giuliani too liberal; John McCain too much of a maverick, simultaneously mistrusted for his previous deviations (campaign finance, immigration) and saddled with his embrace of an unpopular war.

As former Arkansas governor and long-shot presidential wannabe Mike Huckabee told the Conservative Political Action Conference about the 2008 campaign, "The theme might be 'Dude, Where's My Candidate?' "

Given the unsettled nature of the race, given his recent surge in the polls, given the suspicion with which many conservatives view him -- given all of that, you might have thought that Giuliani would have viewed the CPAC event as an important marketing opportunity. You might have thought he'd have put some effort into his speech -- maybe, even, have written a new one.

Indeed, the crowd packed into the Omni Shoreham ballroom and gathered around the television monitors outside seemed to be waiting to be wowed. But Giuliani didn't so much seize the opportunity as amble through it. He neither tossed the crowd red meat (conservative judges, maybe?) nor took on his vulnerabilities (the closest he came was to quote Ronald Reagan, "My 80 percent ally is not my 20 percent enemy") nor offered them much in the way of substance.

"Americans want to sell you something," Giuliani told the crowd. "That's what we want to do. We want to sell you a product." If so, Giuliani is no Ron Popeil.

Instead, he served up a pedestrian address padded with Reagan references (15, by my count) and platitudes. "The most important lesson that I learned from Ronald Reagan was the importance of optimistic leadership. I believe Ronald Reagan was able to achieve the things he was able to achieve because Ronald Reagan was a leader, which is a combination of being a visionary and a practical person who can achieve results."

Or, "We're not a country of one ethnic group. . . . We're all different religions. And we're all different races. Since we're not identified that way, what identifies us as Americans? The thing that identifies us as American are our ideas. And our ideas are wonderful ideas. And they're ideas that the world is moving toward."

And that was in just the first five minutes. Read the whole thing for yourself, at http://www.cpac.org/speeches/Giuliani.doc, and decide if I'm being unfair.

Even when discussing the issue on which he has every reason to shine -- the war on terrorism -- Giuliani was unimpressive, spouting tired Reaganisms ("peace through strength") and arguing a proposition that no one except the straw Democrats of Republican imaginings seems to debate much: that America must "remain on offense" against terrorists.

"We need an American president that understands the necessity of being on offense; needs to explain it to the rest of the world," he said. "And then, finally, what we all need to do is to understand that America has the right ideas. We should not be embarrassed about ourselves. We shouldn't have our heads down."

About Iraq -- nothing, other than to lampoon congressional Democrats for pushing a nonbinding resolution ("I understand that next week they're going to debate the entire week to see if they can make the World Series a nonbinding result.")

As to Giuliani's competition, McCain skipped CPAC; Romney gave a much meatier and more rousing speech -- and he started by bringing up on stage "my sweetheart," his first and only wife. (Take that, Mr. Thrice Married-Once Annulled-Once Divorced-Mayor.)

In the end, one mediocre speech to one crowd 10 months before the first vote is cast will not matter much -- unless it presages more uninspired Giuliani performances.

Time magazine, in one of the more peculiar poll questions ever asked, reported this week that Giuliani is the candidate voters think would do best at speed-dating (16 percent, to Barack Obama's 13 percent).

The 2008 campaign, though, will be more like an overly prolonged engagement -- and it's far from clear whether voters will still want to date the mayor once the getting-to-know-you stage is over.

SMALL GOVERNMENT TIMES
SGT interviews presidential candidate John Cox - Steve Adcock
The Small Government Times recently had the opportunity to interview author and presidential candidate John Cox. John Cox focuses on limiting the size of the government and believes in the individual liberties of people, not the regulatory power of the federal government, to lead our nation down a better path. John Cox's book is titled “Politic$, Inc”, and is available on Amazon.com.

The interview focuses on a variety of different topics important to small government, including the War in Iraq, our nation's many social programs, our flawed progressive income taxation system, religion and public schools and flag desecration. John Cox talks about specific goals that need to be accomplished in Iraq before our troops should be pulled out and addresses the increasing tide of American companies in search of cheap labor overseas. What is the job of the government, what amendments are necessary to keep our nation safe and how much regulation does the federal government have the responsibility of mandating on the American people? Find out John Cox's answers to those questions in this interview.

The interview below uses the following format: Questions asked by the Small Government Times are prefaced with the text SGT and appear in bold font. John Cox's answers are prefaced with JC and are italicized.

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